History of South America

slave ships

Slave ship it was the name by which the boat that transported blacks destined for slave labor on the American continent between the 16th and 19th centuries became known.

The first recorded shipment of enslaved Africans took place in 1525 and the last in 1866.

Slave Traffic

Until the beginning of the 18th century, before the laws that began to prohibit the slave trade, blacks were treated as a commodity like any other.

Thus, the enslaved were transported in the holds of ships where they remained confined on trips that could last two months, until they reached their destination.

They were forcibly shipped and imprisoned in holds that were barely enough to remain seated. Enslaved Africans were kept naked, separated by sex, and men were kept in chains to prevent revolts. The women, on the other hand, suffered sexual violence from the crew.

Small groups were sometimes allowed to go up on deck to sunbathe. There was also sadism on the part of the crew that forced the enslaved to dance or subjected them to various humiliations.

It is estimated that from 1525 to 1866 12.5 million individuals (estimated 26% were still children) were transported as merchandise to American ports.

Of these, about 12.5% ​​(1.6 million) did not survive the trip. It is important to note that this number only refers to those who died during the trip.

This was the largest forced displacement in recorded history to date.

See also:slave trade


The main causes of death were related to gastrointestinal problems, scurvy and infectious diseases - which also affected the crew.


Another factor that contributed to the high number of deaths was the punishment applied to the rebels.

Most slaves were forced to witness the punishment so that they could be persuaded not to try the same.

The best known was that of the ship "Amistad" in 1839, which would have its story taken to the cinema. However, other revolts such as that of the boat "Kentucky", of 1845, was put down and all blacks were thrown overboard.

End of the Slave Trade

The condition of the ships worsened as the international market changed course and ceased to consider the capture and incarceration of black Africans profitable.

Beginning in 1840 (a century after becoming the world's leading slave trader), England began to curb slave transport.

With the change in the conception of human slavery, this activity came to be considered as the slave trade.

Part of the British fleet starts to supervise the routes and capture the slave ships. In order not to be caught red-handed, captains often ordered the “cargo” – human lives – to be thrown overboard.

To compensate for British vigilance, traffickers increased the number of captives per ship. This drastically reduced the sanitary and structural conditions of the trips, increasing suffering and the number of deaths.

See also:End the African Slave Trade

The Slave Ship of Castro Alves

The poet Castro Alves (1847-1871) engaged with Abolitionism and wrote the poem "Navio Negreiro" in 1868.

Castro Alves used to recite it in theater, gatherings and soirees to make Brazilian society aware of the horrors to which blacks were subjected on these ships.

The verses described the terrible conditions of travel and directly criticized the Brazilian government for still allowing slaves to enter its territory, despite the enactment of the Eusébio de Queirós Law.

Read an excerpt from the poem below:

See also:The Slave Ship by Castro Alves

Read more :

  • Slavery in Brazil
  • Colonial Brazil
  • Abolition of Slavery
  • Golden Law
  • Quilombos
  • Black Consciousness